April 3, 2007
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY...
When you got swept the past two weekends, every game from that point counts more than you can imagine. We went into last week knowing that some things needed to change if we were going to right the ship and get headed in the direction of post season play. Our penchant for poor pitching needed to be reversed. Too many nights of good run production were being wasted. That tends to put more pressure on our hitters as leads get lost.
Tuesday night Joe Walsh brought the Harvard Crimson to town for our seventh annual meeting. Each year Joe has come off a weekend series where he has used all his best pitchers. The result has been that FAU has been able to win each of those games. Joe and his guys are great competitors and were ready to throw their best. Harvard would be opening their Ivy League schedule on Saturday, so Joe seized the chance to use his top two guys and closer against us.
Knowing this, and acutely in need of a win, we played all our starters instead of resting a couple of guys who could have used the night off to heal. I felt bad for the guys who normally might have started but hoped we would get a lead and put them in later.
The best laid plans often go awry.
Things looked good for the home side in the first as Robbie Widlansky and Mike McKenna hit back to back homers for the third time this season. If I was smart, I'd insert a singles hitter between them.
But we gave the Crimson the lead the next inning as we gave up a four spot. Our guys responded with four of their own in the bottom half and I felt we might be okay. The Crimson kept battling, led by Brendan Byrne (NOT the former governor of NJ) who went 3-5 with three rbi's. They plated five runs in the sixth to take a 9-6 lead.
It looked like Coach Walsh was about to get off the schneid. (That word is killing spell-check!)
Tyler Stevens hit a solo jack in the seventh to cut the lead to two. We needed a push at the end and got it in the ninth.
Harvard's Eric Eadington, worked the last six innings and carved us up, striking out seven. He's a raw freshman but has good stuff. Luckily for us he was done by the ninth. After a walk and one out, we got three straight singles to tie the score. Bomback flew out to bring Widlansky to the plate with the bases loaded. Woody ripped a game winner to right and the night was done.
Arkansas State was next on Friday night. What we all knew was that we needed a well pitched game from Mike Obradovich to give us a chance to feel better about our staff. Mike came through with a career best 13 strikeouts and no walks for our first complete game. Block and Bomback both homered to lead the way on offense. It was our first conference win at home and the first Sun Belt win in three weeks.
Chris Salberg was on the hill the next night in place of Justin Phillabaum who had sprained his ankle and wrenched his back in the weight room on Wednesday. That's the second sprained ankle in the last two weeks for Philly. He doesn't seem to have a leg to stand on.
Salberg had some nasty stuff, striking out 14, but the Indians' pitcher, T.J.Brewer was up to the task fanning 11 of our guys. We were tied at three in the eighth when Danny Bomback blasted a solo shot off the scoreboard in right to put us on top.
Salberg wanted no part of leaving.
I sent him out for the ninth and immediately wished I hadn't. He was jacked up and tired- not a good combination. A leadoff walk and two balls to the next hitter and Chris was gone. Brandon Kloess nearly had us in with a win, but a passed ball and a two out, two strike, hanging slider later we were in the bottom of the ninth staring into the abyss.
As Yogi would say, "Déjà vu all over!" ... a leadoff walk by Danny Cook got things started. Travis Ozga pinch hit and fought off a good pitch for a Texas Leaguer to left. Nick Arata beat out a sac bunt and the throw got away from the firstbaseman, and the game was tied.
An intentional walk to load the bases brought up Will Block who bounced a ball over the third baseman's head and it was over.
Sunday gave us the opportunity to gain some ground in the standings. A third win and the sweep would give us a big lift in our effort to dig out from the hole we were in because of the past two weekends.
Phillabaum thought he was ready, but the first inning proved your heart can only carry you so far. I blame myself for not watching him warm up and being ready with a starter to replace him. Justin was obviously not himself as he only recorded one out and gave up four runs in the first.
We chipped away early, but Nick Lambert and Tim Egart combined to hold us to one run and three hits over the last five innings to nail down a win for the Indians, and make their flight home a lot more enjoyable.
Meanwhile, I spent yesterday feeling as if my dog had died. That last game was huge if we are to make a move the rest of the way. We had ASU down but couldn't finish them off on Sunday. It made Monday a tough day.
The only thing that brightened my mood some was the sight of Tommy Murphy in the Angels' dugout last night. Tommy had won a tight battle for the final roster spot in Anaheim, and must have been sky high standing for the anthem on Opening Day in a Big League uniform. He's one of the nicest kids we've ever had in our program and everyone is happy for him and his wife Deborah.
I remember a day back in his freshman year when I passed Tommy walking to the locker room after a night practice. He looked pretty morose for a kid who had the future we all saw for him. I stopped him and said he needed to be a little more upbeat. This is baseball. It's fun. Tommy looked at me and said, "Baseball hasn't always been fun for me."
Murph was a kid who had such high standards for himself that he never felt he had done well enough. He never believed he was really that good.
Well, he has and he is.
I hope he's having fun now.